COLUMBIA — The Missouri baseball team comes into this season not knowing what to expect.
A year ago, Missouri was ranked 20th in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll. The Tigers had several key players returning and few question marks. But the team finished with a subpar 35-27 record, including a 2-7 record on the opening road trip of the season in Arizona.
Missouri vs. Gonzaga
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: In the Collegiate Cactus Classic in Tucson, Ariz.
RADIO: KTGR/100.5 FM & 1580 AM
This season, no one is predicting great things for the Tigers. They received just nine votes in the preseason poll and have a starting lineup that will look nothing like last year's. The Tigers start their season on Friday against Gonzaga in Tuscon, Ariz. in the first game of a 10-game road trip.
“This year’s team is a lot different than last year’s team,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “Sometimes when you have veteran groups, they kind of settle in. Last year’s team, I thought took some things for granted early in the year. And quite frankly, we weren’t as good as people thought we were. That had a lot to do with our slow start last year.”
The team has lost ace Kyle Gibson along with key position players Greg Folgia, Ryan Lollis, Kyle Mach, Trevor Coleman and Steve Gray. Jamieson said he doesn’t know who will fill these spots, and he probably won’t know until halfway through the season. The team hasn’t had a chance to practice outside because of the winter weather.
“It’s difficult to replace experience,” Jamieson said. “For this year, we’re doing it with inexperience. We feel like we’ve got a talented group of players that will have to fill a void."
Senior outfielder Aaron Senne is one of few returning starting players. Senne said the team bought into the hype of how good they were and the pressure got to them.
“Last year, we were playing almost not to lose in a sense a little bit,” Senne said. “Where as, this year, we’re playing more to win because we have nothing to lose.”
Senne said he will be counted on to provide a powerful bat in the middle of the lineup. He said he thinks this year will see low expectations turning into good results.
“I need to go out there and contribute, but I’ve got enough guys around me that can do it as well,” Senne said. “Nobody really knows about them because they haven’t played on the team the past couple years. They definitely have the talent to swing it.”
One of the players he’s talking about is junior Brett Nicholas who transferred from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. Nicholas is a power hitter, who plays catcher and third base and has a chance to become the team’s starting third baseman, which is a rare opportunity for a transfer student.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Nicholas said. “I kind of thought that coming into a big time school, a Big 12 school, that there would be a little cut-throat action for starting spots. Everybody is out there, competing their best. “
Nothing is certain for the Tigers. A week ago, Jamieson said junior pitcher Nick Tepesch would be starting on Friday. Now, he will be starting on Saturday. Jamieson said the main goal of the trip is to answer questions.
“The goal is to make sure that by the time we get to conference that we’ve looked at all the alternatives,” Jamieson said. “That’s going to take a while.”